Archive for December, 2011

Resolutions Suck

New Year’s Resolutions suck. Yeah, they’re a nice ‘feel good’ measure that people can take to avoid the rush of actually making a change, but they suck in general. Lose weight, stop smoking, become a better person… all goals which have no substantive basis in the real world. And yet, people are content to make these resolutions without worries and with an eye turned toward following a well trodden path.

The new year does offer great things as far as goals are concerned. It’s a lot more easy to remember than, say, April 12 or November 4 as a starting date. But, as far as establishing goals and making lasting changes within one’s life, it’s just another day.

I used to make resolutions all the time, but they had about as much substance as cotton candy. I’d scream to the heavens, “I’m going to lose weight!” or “I’m going to have a better money situation!” and come February I’d be in the same position, eating an entire tub of Ben n Jerry’s while buying useless stuff online.

You want to know the secret to real change in your life? You want the magic bullet? You want something that will absolutely, completely, totally, and irrevocably change your world? Try putting a plan behind the goal. Try putting a little bit more WHY into it, rather than a how or a what.

Let’s try a sample goal. This one’s one of my personal goals regarding this blog.

I want to make money from this blog.

This doesn’t say WHY I want to make money, it just says WHAT I want to do. It’s a perfectly reasonable ‘middle stance’ for my intentions, though the goal on its face doesn’t say a damned thing. I still have other questions that I need to ask. The first of which is WHY do I want to make money from this blog?

There are many reasons WHY I want to make money from this blog.

Money is a resource which helps the mundanes think about value. Most of the things that I want and need have a money value attached, and I don’t enjoy the way that I feel when I am not able to afford them. Do I necessarily WANT the money? No, I want the experiences and the things that come along WITH the money. The money is just a medium. I realize that it’s a necessity to have in order to keep a roof over my head.

Money making blogs tend to have a lot of readers. Having a large readership for this blog would be awesome, not because of the money making that can be done, but because of the connections and the interactions that I can have. I value friendship and respect quite a lot, because the friendships and the respect that I receive make me feel good inside – far better than just the money would. Remember, money is just a tool.

Having more money in my pocket will allow me to pursue other goals. I would love to do a ‘convention tour’ around the country, visiting as many science fiction/fantasy conventions and filk conventions that I can. I want to do these cons right, not in a half-assed moocher way of sleeping on couches and in cars. I’m talking rooms at each one, and a regular method of eating. I want to take my around the country friends out on the town and not privately wonder whether I can afford it.

I want to show that it’s possible that hard work and doing the right thing can yield results. I want to prove to myself that it can be done, even though I know from other people’s accounts that it’s quite within the reach of anyone who’s willing to pursue it. I have a history of backing down from challenges because I deem them to be too hard or not worth my time. And you know what? It’s time to buck up and prove it to myself.

After answering the WHY to the question of ‘I want to make money from this blog,’ I can then turn to the HOW can I make money from this blog.

This is the part which requires some research. Through observation, I’ve seen people make money from their own blogs through advertising, writing more stuff, offering seminars, selling products on their mailing lists, and more. Essentially, the people who make money from their blogs are offering some VALUE to their readers. Their blogs are a great source for coupon news or money saving tips or they offer a smile to start the day. The question then becomes ‘how can I add VALUE to my readers? That question can be answered several ways.

The HOW part of the question is what gets broken up into little tiny chunks. What can I DO RIGHT NOW to make this blog more valuable to my readers? HOW can I make my information more readable? WHAT content can I add that will make you come back for more? I generally ask those questions of myself in a different manner. ‘What would make this blog more awesome?’ and I look at it with an objective eye.

But, I digress.

Many resolutions are made without one of the three factors (WHY, HOW, and WHAT) in place, and some without all three of them. They are simple pie in the sky statements which land in the bucket of ‘would be nice’ and never get done. Despite the title of this post, this is not a condemnation of ALL resolutions, because there are some people who make a viable PLAN to get their goals accomplished and just so happen to do that at the beginning of the new year. Remember, the more details that you have at the beginning, the easier it is to follow through on the goal.

What’s in store for you in 2012? How are you going to make it happen? I’d love to know.

The Many Uses of Popcorn

I was working on the list of Crazy (and sometimes Douche’y) ways to save, and realized that popcorn is an amazingly cheap and versatile resource for anybody who’s wanting to save a buck. There are plenty of ways that you can repurpose popcorn for your own needs.

Bird Feeder Food

Birds are everywhere. Some of them are rather attractive and rare, but there’s also a lot of pigeons and crows where we are. If you’ve got a bird feeder, convenient yard, or lake nearby, you can use that excess popcorn to feed them and attract even more of them.

If you’re fond of roadkill delights, and have some skills, you can attract the birds with your delicious, irresistible popcorn, then shoot them with buckshot to have a meal that night. It not only saves money, but feeds you for a day or two in the process.

Beanbag Chairs

Lots of day old popcorn on your hands is never a problem when you need to furnish your place. All it takes is a couple of trash bags (always double bag for maximum effectiveness) and a whole boatload of popcorn at your disposal. Fill those trash bags with the popcorn and seal them up for a few comfortable places to sit.

Christmas Garlands

Wait a few days after popping (or acquiring) the popcorn, take a needle and thread, and go to to town. With a bucket of popcorn, you can make a very long string of garland which can be used to trim your tree. For a little added flavor and color, drop in a bit of dried fruit (without the sugar) and you’ll have something that your friends will be talking about for years to come.

Projectiles

Are you tired of your friends constantly making really bad puns whenever you talk about cows? How about the cat who’s been driving you nuts with the constant clawing in the middle of the night? Already popped popcorn makes an exciting and entertaining bag to throw at the offensive party. Take a little bit of plastic wrap and capture the popcorn, keep a few by your favorite chair, and wait for opportunities to make it fly.

Packaging

There’s a reason that those white puffs of air are called popcorn. Popcorn (the real stuff) makes excellent packing material for the packages that you’re wanting to ship. Take enough of it, and you’ll be able to fool your friends with the ‘huge box’ and ‘little present’ scheme. This works especially well if you’re sending out things which are already encased in shrink wrap (there’s sometimes a little oil on the popcorn).

Jewelry

With very little skill, you can make some wonderful popcorn jewelry. This is, of course, using the same techiques that you used making the Christmas garlands, but on a smaller scale. Within a few minutes, you can have a popcorn necklace that will be the envy of all of your friends (especially the ornithologists out there!).

Building Material

With enough popcorn at your disposal and a little bit of paste, you can create some building material for your latest project. Popcorn can be ground up and used for walls and floors of your dollhouse projects. If you so choose, you can also grind that used popcorn into a powder and construct small textural paintings.

Landscaping for Miniatures Wars

With enough popcorn and paste (and talent!!) you can make small trees and other parts of the landscape for your train sets, miniatures wars, and more. There’s no need to spend tons of cash on the styrofoam and spray paint, you can find all you need within a big bag of popcorn. (Well, you might need a little bit of paint.)

Fake Dirty Snow

Grind up that popcorn and make some snow that can be used for the movie sets that you’re establishing within the basement. If you need some, just pop a little more and save a lot on the real special effects and other, more reputable services. You’re doing it yourself, and there’s no stopping you!

Acquiring Your Materials

Popcorn is an easy resource to get, if you know where to look. The most obvious choice which comes to mind is theaters. Now, I haven’t done this since the days before regulations on unused food, but I used to ask the workers for their popped popcorn at the end of the night. They would happily give it to me, all bagged up, sparing them the trip outside to the dumpster. They’ve always got their share of spare popped popcorn laying around.

These days, you might have to be a little bit more sneaky, though a little dumpster diving never hurt anyone. Outside of those same theaters, there are some dumpsters which carry all of the trash for the night. Before the trash person picks it up, go to the movie theater dumpster and search for the lightest (and probably smoothest) bag that you can find. Feel it before you open it to find out what’s inside, but you’ve more than likely hit the popcorn motherlode. This is a great way to boost your collection of popcorn for any projects that you’re wanting to start.

Since the workers at the theaters are usually pros at popping popcorn and they might not have much overage, search out places within your area that serve popcorn. One of the local grocery stores has a little popper which they use to give out corn to the kids. The tub always seems to be full, no matter when I go in there. Another place to look would be passing carnivals – they have popcorn, though they will probably try to sell it to you.

You could always just do it yourself and spend a day popping popcorn. The kind of quantity that you’ll need for some of these projects might make it not as cost effective as searching for it in other venues. You don’t want to be stuck in front of a stove all day, going through your own oil, and popping lots and lots of the stuff. There’s only so much that you can eat. Remember, too, if you’re grinding the popcorn, you’re going to end up with a lot less volume than what you started with.

I hope that you enjoyed my small guide on uses for popcorn. There is lots of popcorn out there which needs to be liberated from its confines and repurposed to save the world.

Suffering, Financial Independence, and Passion

There comes a point in your life where you have to put up or shut up. We all have ideas about personal improvement, and there are a boatload of books out there on this subject, but there are a far rarer number of people who will follow through on their own personal development. Essentially, they know HOW to do it, and they know WHY they should do it, but they don’t take the time to DO it. This is extremely frustrating for everyone involved.

This quote is from the Matrix: Agent Smith: Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization.

In some instances, I believe that is exactly true. We define our reality through suffering and misery. We wonder what life would be like in that perfect world without the suffering and misery, but we create situations for ourselves which are totally antithetical to happiness and bliss. Moreover, we don’t even pursue that happiness and bliss because we believe that it’s out of reach or meant for other people or something else entirely. We do not pursue our personal happiness, whether it be in the form of financial independence, having our dream jobs, and more.

There are, however, a rare few who believe that there is something different. They believe that happiness can be achieved, and that it can come in the form of financial independence, doing their dream jobs, going to the Bahamas on a yearly basis, what have you. Those who do exactly these things WORK for it. They have a shining goal and pursue it like their life depended on it. Because it does. You can find bloggers who have achieved their personal financial freedom, and those who are actively pursuing it. You can also find lifestyle designers who have found the knack, that one thing, and are doing it over and over again in the white hot pursuit of their own dreams.

But these individuals are rarities.

Occasionally, you’ll find people who are ignorant about the ways to pursue happiness and personal financial freedom. These people are rare, as well. Mostly, what you’ll find is folks who KNOW the ways and are not taking matters into their own hands. That is sad. Absolutely sad. No matter what religion you embrace, we still have THIS life that we’re aware of, and it should be filled with happiness, dream fulfillment and a whole to of other things. And yet, there is a retiscence to embrace the inevitability of the unknown.

The true magic, the REAL magic within this world is made by people who DO. I have a great respect for those who DO and fail than those who don’t DO in the first place. We, as humans, create our own realities. As adults, we choose to be where we are and we choose to go where we go. There is very little stopping us, other than our own fears.

I was once asked what I will do once I achieve financial independence. I don’t know, I will figure that out WHEN I get there. I want to be considered among those rare few who DO, and I want you to join me.

How to Think Like a Kitten

My mate and I received a kitten a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been quite a ride. She loves to pounce everything, scampers everywhere she goes, and wakes us both up in the middle of the night. The lessons that I’ve learned from her have been priceless.

How to Think Like a Kitten

1. Scamper Everywhere

Kittens don’t walk anywhere, they scamper. They rush toward the laser pointer. They rush toward your feet when they’re under the covers. They have no hesitation in going for your mouth or your hair.

When it comes to any goal like financial freedom, weight loss, getting the great job, or finding love, it pays to scamper toward the goal. Kittens don’t know or understand the obstacles that stand in their way. They just RUSH toward the goal without hesitation.

2. Commit Yourself

There’s a piece of string over there, and it’s called me names! I need to pounce it! Every single fiber of a kitten’s being is devoted to pursuing the goal of catching the string, your feet, or your shoes. There are no other thoughts within the kitten’s head other than attacking or eating.

Wrangling your finances require the same amount of focus. There is no room for the half assed commitments or the ‘well, I need to hold something back’ mentality. You either do it with all of your heart or you don’t.

3. Do What You Need to Do

Kittens spend very little time eating and taking care of their own biology. They’re committed to romping around the house, playing, and otherwise enjoying themselves. They get the job done, then are done with it and back to the original goal of living fully as a feline.

There is very little to do after making the plan. All you have to do is stick with it, but there’s a LOT of time leftover for doing the things that you enjoy. In fact, most of your spending decisions come down to split second decisions – after they’re made, there’s no need to question yourself.

4. Live for right NOW

Kittens don’t sit and think about the mistakes that they’ve made in their feline lives. They live in the moment, playing and being cute and otherwise enjoying their kittenish lives.

You can’t change the past. You can affect the future, but you live in the NOW. Sure, you might have made some horrible financial mistakes, but the solutions comem to one question. What can you do about it right NOW to fix it? If you have an immediate answer to that question, do it.

5. Be Honest With Yourself

Kittens don’t think about being kittens. They just are. They thrive in their worlds, and wrestle the extension cords down to the ground, chase bugs, and enjoy themselves. They are in no way concerned with being something else.

We deceive ourselves in our financial lives. We tell ourselves that it wasn’t that big or that there’s not much of an impact. Be objective with your finances, good or bad.

Kittenish life is sometimes difficult. There’s plenty of things to explore, and it’s often difficult to explore them one at a time. Your finances are probably difficult to unravel, too, but if you approach it like a kitten, you’ll find that more fun has entered your life.

How to Craft a Frugal Lifestyle

It’s chilly here in Atlanta. No, it’s not the type of chilly that northerners have to contend with, but it’s cold enough so that I’ve donned a blanket to wear around myself while typing. The reason WHY it’s cold in my house is that I set the thermostat to 60 – just at my limit of standing cold – to save money on my power bill.

And it’s paid off, too. Last year, when my air conditioning was set to 68, the bills were around $200 for this three bed, two bath place. Our bill for November was $123, a savings of $77 for this month.

I’ve been looking for games on Kongregate this morning, too. I found a tower defense game that I’m enjoying, something that’s good for a couple of hours worth of gameplay. While it’s not the games that I would have to BUY to play, it still keeps me occupied. That’s around $20 for just this month.

Speaking of games, I also downloaded the demo of Enchanted Cavern 2 from Big Fish Games so I could see how the game itself played. It was reasonable, but I don’t believe that I’m going to purchase the game after the hour. I’d rather save my money on that.

The biggest thing on our agenda is to get the emergency fund back up to $1000 and pay off the credit card. The plan is that I will pour money into the credit card and pay bills off of it. That way, since the money is available, I can pay the minimum monthly payment as well as the other bills. Every penny except for the mortgage goes into the credit card. Hopefully, the $9000 balance will be paid off by the middle of August.

A holistic approach needs to be taken to financial management. Every tiny thing that is done, regardless of whether it spends or saves, factors in to a general lifestyle. Money affects everything, including love, personal well being, happiness, and spiritual growth. Each decision influences the other to form patterns of frugality, waste, or moderation.

So, my decision not to purchase a game leaves $20 in my pocket that I can spend on going out to eat, or putting toward the credit card bill, or saving until I need it for car repair, or the emergency fund, or whatever I choose. That $77 that I saved on power is going to be pushed toward the phone bill or groceries. These decisions form trends, patterns, and a lifestyle.

How to Craft a Frugal Lifestyle

Determine why you want a frugal lifestyle

Do you want to have some extra money in your pocket for the important things? Do you simply want to have a higher bank balance than your friends? (no, this is not a frivolous reason) Do you see this as a path to getting the stuff that you feel you deserve?

Determine whether it’s worth it

Regardless of your reasoning for wanting the frugal lifestyle, you have to make the decision about whether going through the effort is worth it. I tend to do beneficial stuff for myself only when the detrimental stuff gets in my way. When it’s more comfortable to be frugal than to not be frugal, I’ll be frugal.

Most of the time, I’m frugal because I don’t want to be in the yoke of the banks. I want to own the deed to my house free and clear. I want to have the maximum amount of money available for whatever whim I set my sights on that week. So, I keep the heater at 60 degrees, or I play the free video games and the demos.

If it’s really important, do it

If you’ve thought about getting a particular item, doing a particular thing, or going on a particular journey and it’s really important to you, do it. If you want to purchase the VIP suites at the Mirage, save up enough money to do it – and don’t feel guilty about it. If your tongue is absolutely, positively, and completely set on scallops, eat them.

If you’re ambivalent, screw it

If you don’t particularly care what you eat or where you go, then choose the cheaper method or go without. For me, I’m happy with nearly any food that gets put into my mouth, and I’m really happy to be around my friends. It doesn’t matter if we’re eating out at the finest restaurant in Atlanta or sitting around at home playing cards – I’m in it for the friends.

I’m particular about a very few things in my foods, loyal to name brands, but most of the time I shop at Aldi and save a fortune. Everything’s a store brand, and most of it is pretty tasty (stay away from noodle soups). I won’t purchase mayo there, because I’m a Hellmann’s girl. I get the things that are worth it to me.

The key to developing a frugal lifestyle is thinking before acting. If there’s something with a price tag attached that you want, do the research to get the best pricing. If you don’t care one way or the other, choose the cheap or free method. Be mindful and enjoy.